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Do Skyscrapers have a place in a permaculture city?  RSS feed

 
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Do buildings over ten stories or so have a place in a permaculture city?

Their two big advantages are:

1. They already exist.

2. They aid in producing a densely populated city. For all sorts of reasons, all other things being equal, a dense city is more efficient and sustainable.

However, they have some significant drawbacks.

1. Some claim that they produce undesirable metal and physical effects on those who live in them.

2. Some claim that they produce undesirable social effects; they can apparently limit people's sense of ownership and community.

3. Some claim they have a detrimental effect on people walking by, making them feel small and insignificant and disoriented.

4. They take a lot of energy to heat and cool, due to their height, the chimney effect, their large expanses of glass, and the shading of other buildings; they also shade other buildings, and the street, leading to heating and ice problems.

5. They take a lot of energy to light, due to their large interior area.

6. They take a lot of energy to move water into, due to their height.

7. They can produce higher volumes of sewer flow, traffic, etc. then can be sustainably dealt with in the immediate area.

8. They take a lot of energy to move people and goods into, since nobody wants to lug a package up 50 floors. (And even if they did, that is a waste of energy of another sort.)

9. The existing ones generally take no thought for sustainable energy use or adaption to a local site.

So, given all this, what should we think? Can they be retrofitted to the point where we can continue to use the existing ones, while advocating against building any more of them? Can they be improved to the point where we should build more of them? Or should we advocate for their removal and replacement by shorter buildings? Before somebody says that this last is far too radical, it should be pointed out that all buildings have a life-span, even very large ones, and that modern buildings tend to have rather short lifespans. We remove buildings all the time for all sorts of reasons. If we decided that they were truly a mistake, we should admit that mistake, and replace them with shorter buildings when they reach the end of their lifespan. Their materials could certainly be recycled or reused. I'm not saying they are such a mistake, but if they are, that would be the logical thing to do.

To reiterate; I'm not against cities; nor am I against high density cities. I currently feel that buildings over 10 stories or so for residential and office space (not monumental use) are a mistake, though I'm open to being shown otherwise. High density, (more)sustainable cities have existed long before steel-concrete-and-glass skyscrapers.

If they can be retrofitted, how can this be done? And will it take more energy, both as a one-off event and in continuing use, they replacing them with shorter, more traditional  buildings?

I've started a seperate thread on high rise farms, both purpose built and retrofit, https://permies.com/t/72274/High-rise-farms.
 
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I think they are probably an essential piece of future cities unless we see a catastrophic decline in global population. And I mean catastrophic quite literally, something like 50 or 60% global population decline within a decade or so. Otherwise we would be well advised to adapt them to our needs more. I've always thought they could provide a lot of their own energy by harnessing the kinetic energy of the steps taken within them and the opening and closing of doors within. They also, of course, could house micro aquaponic farms every 15 floors or so and thus provide a measure of their own food. I don't think they're going anywhere though.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I think they are probably an essential piece of future cities unless we see a catastrophic decline in global population. And I mean catastrophic quite literally, something like 50 or 60% global population decline within a decade or so. Otherwise we would be well advised to adapt them to our needs more. I've always thought they could provide a lot of their own energy by harnessing the kinetic energy of the steps taken within them and the opening and closing of doors within. They also, of course, could house micro aquaponic farms every 15 floors or so and thus provide a measure of their own food. I don't think they're going anywhere though.



Do you think they are necessary to fit everyone? My impression was that many such buildings were office space. If we had a world of buildings under ten stories, do you think we couldn't fit everyone? Also, I'd guess that if one took the average American city, replaced all buildings over ten stores with shorter buildings, and similarly replaced every suburban shopping center and single family home with three story apartment buildings, there would be a huge decrease in area. American cities waste lots of space on suburbia. (Not that I'm advocating doing this.)

In short, to me it seems that space to park dwellings is not our most limiting resource; energy is. And if energy use is too high in skyscrapers, we would be better off without them.

In my thread on high rise farms, I cast some doubt on the viability of food production in skyscrapers; the main issue is that there is not enough light inside.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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http://real-estate-and-urban.blogspot.com/2011/02/are-skyscrapers-necessary-for-density.html

Here is an article showing that a city of low buildings can be quite dense, by avoiding other ways of wasted space, while at the same time admitting that for financial reasons, megacities need skyscrapers. (My next question would be; isn't a city TOO big at some point? Isn't several million people big enough?)
 
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Hi Gilbert.

I think that for many of the reasons that you specify, skyscrapers are a key component in dense urban communities. I definitely think that, as you aren't going to convince everyone to live in 3 to 10 storey apartment blocks rather than their own houses, there aren't many other good ways to confine human sprawl even to the extent we've overrun everything already.

I think, for the same reasons that offering tax incentives to private owners and businesses to install green roofs makes sense, that such retrofit plans should already be in planning stages for all buildings in all cities. I think if the retrofits planned cost more to operate than they return, then they haven't been planned very well.

The issue of energy is a big one, but I think that transparent photovoltaics might play a big role in transforming the energy dynamic without casting more shade. The cooling of buildings will be much easier if they are retrofitted with growspace on their southern faces (northern hemisphere, reverse directions for you south hemispherians), even if to a depth of a couple of feet. The solar gain could be capitalised upon simply by recirculating a building's hot air through ground-sink heat exchangers for release to the interior environment when needed. That wouldn't heat a whole building, but it would represent cost savings that otherwise are exhausted out the top.

I don't like the idea of single-function structures in the normal course of events. I don't think that we should have buildings of any scale, with necessary exceptions, that serve only one function. Office space should coexist closely with housing, and all human living space should interact and coexist with aspects of food production, even if peripherally.

I like the observation, in the case of skyscrapers, that we are talking about what to do at the end of the lifespans of these structures. It is just wasteful to consider tearing down a thing for ideological or aesthetic reasons alone.

I do have concerns about the psychological effects of crowding so many humans into tight spaces, but we don't have the luxury to expand over the face of the planet. That would end us.

My idea of a permacultural skyscraper looks like ideas of what other people have called Arcologies, monolithic self-sustaining structures that, in a permacultural context, would essentially be live-work-play buildings the size of cities themselves that integrate food production and interior arboreta (probably geared towards food production), while dealing with issues of waste recycling and energy production independently. You could essentially seal them, should you want to, or mandate that whatever they intake for normal operations, their output must be cleaner than the existing environment. In this way, if an arcology wasn't food independent (and there are many good ecological and economic reasons to grow certain staple crops where they grow best outdoors and ship them, hopefully via electric train, ship, or airship, eventually) you could expect that the arcologies' excreta would consist primarily of soil consisting of human wastes processed by methane digesters and then likely Black Soldier Fly larvae and red worms. Yes, they could, indeed, be soil factories. All other food-derived wastes would be fed to livestock.

Imagine millions of people living and working in these huge structures, hopefully open to the outside environment (I only mentioned sealing them as an indication of their extreme self-sustaining nature), limiting direct human harm to the environment while allowing millions of people to live an elevator ride away from completely natural environments across a spectrum stretching from parklike to untouched wilderness.

I don't know that we're there yet, but I see that as one possible iteration of that idea. I don't think it would be for me personally, but there are many different kinds of people in this world, and no doubt some would bring more of current urban living into the future with them than some others of us would. But that's okay. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. We can have arcologies, broadacre permaculture, permaculture homesteaders on land ranging in size from one acre to five to fifty. We can have existing cities retrofitted to permacultural ideals, and old skycrapers redone to house people and businesses, and to grow food and process food waste.

So my short answer is, I suppose it depends on how you define skyscraper and city.

-CK
 
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I don't see a place for cities in permaculture.

Cities require to concentrate resources from outside into a small space: Energy, food and materials.
And then they need to get rid of them again. There is not nearly enough space to deal with the waste in a "permaculture way".
 
Chris Kott
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Hi Sebastian,

Our opinions clearly differ. Plants concentrate diverse resources into more energy and nutrient-dense forms, and so do the animals some of us eat. There is nothing inherently bad about the concentration of resources in one place. It creates needs for environmentally appropriate food production and supply, water supply and treatment, and by that same token waste disposal, and some of those things we're not so good at yet.

Bringing permaculture to cities, not just food production, but actual design philosophy to solve current and future urban problems is the place of cities in permaculture, and vice versa. Properly designed, cities could be great big clean soil factories. We would import staple crops, but grow leafy greens and other sensitive perishables locally. We could dispose of food waste with livestock that would fit in backyards, and rotationally graze urban parks. Or mow electrically, gather the clippings of what would hopefully be mowable pasture, and feed urban animals with that, where grazing would be inefficient or unsafe.

Saying that cities have no place in permaculture isn't a useful comment in the context of a world where the only way to do away with them would be after some calamity that renders them unusable. Better to observe the land we're on and approach our design in a permaculturally sound manner than wishing we had a blank slate.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I don't see a place for cities in permaculture.

Cities require to concentrate resources from outside into a small space: Energy, food and materials.
And then they need to get rid of them again. There is not nearly enough space to deal with the waste in a "permaculture way".



Hi Sebastian,

I'd like to discuss this idea further, but I'd like to keep this thread to discussing the place of skyscrapers in a city; my personal thoughts are that cities do have a place in permaculture, but that they'll need some remodeling. I think that widening the discussion will confuse things. In short, I think cities do have a place, because in nature there are definitely concentrated points of resource use. For instance, a beehive; bees concentrate nectar and pollen from a wide area for consumption in a very small area ( 5 miles of territory compared to several feet of hive.)
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Chris,

One consideration I have about all this is as follows. I understand the importance of dense cities; I don't think cities will be socially cohesive or sustainable without a certain level of density.

However, would it be that bad for the planet if cities doubled in size? Currently cities cover less the three percent of the land surface area, as opposed to farmland and forestry, which cover more than half. If we had six percent of the world covered by cities, while shrinking the farmland (or better yet, improving the farmland so that it was not a biological desert) what would be the drawbacks? This is particularly so because the land right around cities is generally degraded anyway.

And I don't think most American cities would be doubled in size by putting in place a ten story limit, particularly since many taller buildings are office space, and there is now extra space in nearly all homes; with computer technology, it is no longer necessary to have all the offices in the same place.

Also, if the social effects are detrimental enough they might keep a society from sustaining itself, regardless of energy use. I'm not saying they are, I'm just asking what if.  

Any yes, I don't see all the skyscrapers going away; I'm just wondering if they can be made sustainable enough for us bother with them; in other words, let's say I could invest a thousand dollars in a new three story sustainable development, or in a retrofit on a skyscraper; which would provide better returns? What should we focus on as we try to repair our cities?

 
Sebastian Köln
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Can we get a thread "What can be the role of cities in permaculture?" I would have put it into the "cider press", but don't have permissions to do so.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Sebastian,

That sounds like it would be an interesting thread. I don't know that it would necessarily have to be cider press material; I'm not a moderator, but I'd guess that so long as it steered clear of politics, ethics, religion, GMOs and toxic gick, it would be fine.
 
Chris Kott
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Gilbert, I would be concerned that the area of influence might increase by an order of magnitude if the cities doubled in area. All that would mean to me would be more wasted space. Then real estate speculation gets factored in, and the more desirable neighbourhoods densify from the centre out, because everyone wants to be there. I think the reason in some cases why you see a ring of wasted space around cities is that, in ones that are actively growing, people hold on to the land until they can sell to developers, and often times it's farm land that is being sold. In most cases, because cities were smaller and they had to grow a lot more food, they were surrounded by farms. Much of that prime agricultural land has been swallowed up by decades of growth and expansion, or destroyed in industrial ventures.

I think the real issue with skyscrapers in cities is what is sometimes called the doughnut problem in city planning. Everyone lives in the suburbs but works in the downtown core. So at night, the centre is empty. Condo buildings have sought to address this, but in many cases, because they aren't designed as live/work spaces, people are filing out of emptying office buildings, perhaps frequenting restaurants or night spots, and then filing into their condo buildings. That is why I feel these two building concepts are due for a merger. The addition of plants to a living and working space is known to improve physical and mental work conditions, so why not extend that thinking a little further?

Again, my caveat is that they need a permacultural redesign, but I think, assuming that the ecological issues of cities can be addressed and solved in a permacultural manner, that skyscrapers designed according to permacultural ideals will be a crucial piece in avoiding disasterous urban sprawl into food production and wilderness spaces.

-CK
 
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Sebastian Köln wrote:I don't see a place for cities in permaculture.

Cities require to concentrate resources from outside into a small space: Energy, food and materials.



I grew up in a rural area until age 18, then lived and worked in London for nearly 20 years. I went to earn more money, there is no reason why the people paying me couldn't have paid me the same money to stay put in the countryside, but it took them nearly 20 years to find that out, and then I moved to Spain and worked remotely before leaving the rat race for a more relaxed and closer to nature lifestyle.

My experience of why people moved to London is that there was something "wrong" with where they lived before, or they were chasing a dream that turned out to be false. They weren't in general happier or richer than they were before, and they certainly weren't healthier. You'd have to pay me a lot of money to set foot in a major city, even for a weekend. cities are seen as solving a problem that in my opinion could be solved in the location where the people who move to the cities started out.
 
Sebastian Köln
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Now that I have a bit more time..
> Cities require to concentrate resources from outside into a small space: Energy, food and materials.

Looking at physics, concentrating anything requires energy. So if a problem can be solved without concentrating the inputs, it is more efficient to avoid it.

The other "thing" is that to me, permaculture is a way of looking at something as a whole. A city itself is not independend, so to analyze a city with permaculture, the sourrounding country can't be separeted.
Looking at nature, whenever something is concentrated, there is a reason for this (or a task, that otherwhise could not be done).

So a permaculture design covering a whole country could indeed include "cities" for special tasks, but I doubt they would be very similar to the cities we know today.

To get back to the original question: I don't see what problem skyscrapers help to solve, other than placing the most rooms on a given ground surface.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I grew up in a rural area until age 18, then lived and worked in London for nearly 20 years. I went to earn more money, there is no reason why the people paying me couldn't have paid me the same money to stay put in the countryside, but it took them nearly 20 years to find that out, and then I moved to Spain and worked remotely before leaving the rat race for a more relaxed and closer to nature lifestyle.



This. In a high energy future, people in the suburbs or rural areas can work from home. In a low energy future, the high density city would be impossible.

Looking at physics, concentrating anything requires energy. So if a problem can be solved without concentrating the inputs, it is more efficient to avoid it.

The other "thing" is that to me, permaculture is a way of looking at something as a whole. A city itself is not independend, so to analyze a city with permaculture, the sourrounding country can't be separeted.
Looking at nature, whenever something is concentrated, there is a reason for this (or a task, that otherwhise could not be done).

So a permaculture design covering a whole country could indeed include "cities" for special tasks, but I doubt they would be very similar to the cities we know today.

To get back to the original question: I don't see what problem skyscrapers help to solve, other than placing the most rooms on a given ground surface.



I'd say that every living thing concentrates material; the question is, at what scale does the concentration cease to make sense? Plants concentrate the relatively diffuse flows of energy and minerals around them. Animals further concentrate these materials in their bodies. Beehives concentrate five miles worth of nectar into a hive full of honey. Small critters stash burrows full of nuts. Farm collect the energy of the fields into pantries and barns. Ponds concentrate surface flow or groundwater into a pocket of still water, where nutrients settle out into rich mud. Clams and corals concentrate calcium from seawater to build their shells. Grazing animals bunch together instead of spreading out. Collection and Concentration are fundamental to life.

I'd say that a city of 50 million can't offer anything a city of 5 million can't offer. But cities (towns, etc.) can provide certain useful functions by collecting human energy. What size they should be, and what they should look like, is an open question. I'd agree with you that concentration to no purpose is a waste of energy; thus I advocate smaller businesses, local government, human sized cities, human scale buildings.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Chris, from what I understand traditional cities (Paris, say) were almost as dense as modern megacities without the tall buildings; they did this by eliminating suburbs, not by building up. Wouldn't a combination of these strategies work better? Zoning and tax incentives could change to prohibit suburbs.

I agree with you on the goal; preventing sprawl. I just don't know if skyscrapers are the best or only way to do this; I think their social and energetic costs outweigh their density benefits.

In your opinion, is density the only benefit of the skyscraper, or are there other benefits?
 
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Anyone interested in sustainable cities (with or without skyscrapers) might find the Strong Towns (strongtowns.org) group helpful.  Their focus is primarily on financial and infrastructural sustainability, along with getting away from auto dependence, but they do touch on food production some.  
 
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You know, I always wondered what would happen if people grew vining beans and other things out of their windows in skyscrapers. A vining bean might grow twenty feat high and need no more than a 5 gallon bucket.
 
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I think that the permaculture place for skyscrapers might be for housing since they do not take up as much of a footprint as shorter buildings or houses.   If shorter buildings were decommissioned and replaced by high-rises in dense clusters (to limit the shade that they have on non-high rises), then the amount of space that was taken up for housing would be greatly reduced.  The rest of the area could be used more efficiently for food growing, greenways, and other permaculture.  
 
Chris Kott
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You know Roberto, enclose those tight groupings of towers in an outer building envelope with a glazing on the sunward side, and maybe make sure they all have rooftop gardens and balcony arboreta, and it starts to resemble those arcologies I mentioned, with everyone no more than an elevator ride and short walk from countryside and wilderness.

Your idea on its own would certainly cut down on waste with regards to delivery of services.

-CK
 
Roberto pokachinni
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enclose those tight groupings of towers in an outer building envelope with a glazing on the sunward side, and maybe make sure they all have rooftop gardens and balcony arboreta, and it starts to resemble those arcologies I mentioned,

 This is true.  I don't necessarily have a problem with your concept.  Although it's a little hard to visualize the superstructure that you describe.  Do you have any drawn images or sites that you can refer me to?  

What I do have a problem with is the centralization of resources and people to the detriment of the greater landscape, which is the case for urbanization at present.  It will take an enormous change of paradigm for the masses to think differently.  Until they do, it's business as usual, and that means that we farm big and haul it in, particularly if all of the labor has left the smaller farming centers and gone to the city to find work.  

One way that centralization could be useful would be to use the central authority of government to gain the labor needed to grow food rurally.  In some countries (like Germany and Switzerland and Israel) the people are required to do public service.  The government lists essential things that this can be, and it is usually the military, but in the case of at least Germany the person can choose to not be involved in the military but can choose to work with mentally challenged people instead.  If the government valued food and health as much as the military, it could deem it an essential public need, and get all the labor it needs to grow all the food it needs in areas that best support those crops.  If government subsidies should exist in the food system, it is to pay for such a system to function effectively. This would encourage permaculture/organic market farming more than anything that I can think of, as the labor factor would be taken care of.  The small farming centers would become vibrant and necessary in the world, and would then become much more valued as places that people might want to live.  It would also encourage decentralization/ruralization as people who get a taste of living rurally, breathing cleaner air, drinking cleaner water, and getting their hands in the soil  through honest labor tend to reconsider the urban experience.    

 
Chris Kott
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So I just happened upon this:

http://www.businessinsider.com/swedens-world-food-building-farm-offices-plantscraper-2017-11

So I'm not the only one, I guess.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I wonder how much energy it will use, and where the nutrients for the hydroponics will come from.

Also, they say it will "feed" 5500 people a year, but I'm guessing that means provide vegetables for, not provide a 2000 calorie a day diet.

They say they will be using a lot of robots. What are we all going to do once the robots have taken all the jobs? Get a universal basic income and work out at the gym to stay fit? Why don't they hire people to do the work instead of robots?

How much embodied energy do you suppose is in that thing?
 
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I wonder how much energy it will use, and where the nutrients for the hydroponics will come from.

Also, they say it will "feed" 5500 people a year, but I'm guessing that means provide vegetables for, not provide a 2000 calorie a day diet.

They say they will be using a lot of robots. What are we all going to do once the robots have taken all the jobs? Get a universal basic income and work out at the gym to stay fit? Why don't they hire people to do the work instead of robots?

How much embodied energy do you suppose is in that thing?  

 While I like the concept, in theory, Gilbert brings up some very valid points.  I totally agree with the idea of nixing the robots.  Screw them.  People love to work with plants and that little bit of nature that exists in a hydroponic garden will have a healing effect on the people involved.  At least some of the people in the building have windows opening up on the greenery.  I'm not a huge fan of hydroponics, but much of the system could be pretty automated without 'robots'; they mention a corkscrew conveyor belt type thing so the plants were getting a lot of light from different angles over time.  The planting and harvesting and nursery work would probably be the robot work.    

Gilbert, they do mention that it was feeding 5000 people their vegetables; not their full calories.

As far as embodied energy, without the robots, probably not too much more than the average super modern skyscraper.  With the robots, it would probably be a lot higher though.  I can't imagine fully the kind of tech that a robot would need, and what kind of footprint would go into manufacturing it.  I imagine though that, like with most high tech stuff, the rare earth metals will be needed, and they are not only a large footprint (strip mines), but are often war zone related in the global racket of exploitation in sub Saharan Africa and the child soldier/child labor situation is rolled up in that.  Not sure if that is the case, but if it is, it's a lot like blood diamonds, just less talked about because everyone is using the smart phone tech (myself included). A Guardian article about Coltan mining
   
 
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Should be cobalt mining, not coltan mining.  Both are mentioned in the article, but I made a mistake in my posting the URL.
 
Chris Kott
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Yeah, I agree about nixing the robots, as might be divined from reading the rest of the thread. You toss the robots, and out goes a lot of the energy embodied in the tech. I am in favour of technological advancement, but again, the idea of buying robots to replace people, then paying those unemployed or underemployed people a Living Wage so that they can buy the food coming out of the foodscraper seems like a dumb idea. Technology should be used to make the efforts of individuals more impactful, not remove them entirely.

So how much embodied energy would we be talking about? Probably not much more than any comparable building going up today. Unless they are properly designed to last hundreds of years, as we should be designing everything, as opposed to buildings designed to be torn down every 20-30 years, in which case the embodied energy costs would be much higher, and rightly so.

I would argue that it should be a goal to design these structures with their specific environments and microclimates in mind. They should embody as much energy as it takes to build giant, self-sustaining multi-use structures that create their own energy, convert their own wastes to soil and clean water, act as passive filters on their surrounding environments, perhaps even act as units of geoengineering to passively cool urban heat islands, to grow moss on their non-glazed exteriors as living air filters, and to last a thousand years.

And as brought up before, that's one of the great things about passive and renewable energy sources. Sure, we need to figure out how to manufacture certain components without trashing more of the environment, but we are in a transitionary period; as coal and oil prices are driven down by fracked natural gas and renewables get steadily cheaper and more efficient, so embodied energy should be looked at less in terms of a total energy cost, and more in terms of the cost of that embodied energy and its utility over the lifespan of the thing in which its embodied. If a thing has too short a lifespan to justify its embodied energy, then of course a less energy-intensive solution to the problem that thing solves should be found, or its lifespan should be lengthened. Embodied energy, though, has to be seen in context.

And, as also brought up earlier, if liquid metal-cooled thorium microreactors become the next home energy solution (or another currently speculative energy source grounded in hard science), the amount of clean energy available will reach levels disruptive to current technology. There will be a glut of electricity, with no effective way of turning it into a fertilizer or 'cide of any kind without employing biological processes (using it to grow, which will still be cheaper to do where it can be done on broad acreage). This kinda kills the embodied energy argument, as does the product longevity argument. And renewables might just take us into a glut of clean energy as it stands.

My point in bringing up that article, though, was to point out the focus on several topics that we were discussing, including supplementing low levels of natural light in off-seasons with LEDs designed to produce only parts of the light spectrum useful for plant growth at each individual crop's growth cycle. In the barest of terms, that usually means blue light for vegetative growth and red light for blossoming/fruiting, but I would focus instead on eliminating parts of the spectrum harmful to plant growth, and eliminating only that, for fear of starving them of some part of the spectrum that benefits them in ways for which we haven't yet discovered the mechanism. It is no surprise that this project is coming out of northern cities, where in some cases the sun isn't even seen for months. If they design it to efficiently produce food during a time of year where there are not crops, think of how effective such an idea could be put into practice in less-harsh climates.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Well, as far as the embodied energy thing, we'll see. I'm not quite so certain we are facing a huge energy glut. I've got old textbooks from the early fifties, predicting electricity too cheap to meter due to nuclear power. It hasn't happened yet; we've been waiting sixty years, and nuclear provides just 4% of the world's energy. If we're going to produce all these vegetables with electricity, we'd better hurry up.

And it may also be that this skyscraper only takes as much energy to build as a conventional skyscraper; but does it take more energy to build then a standard farm? If we've got so much energy, why not just transport vegetables in from fields outside of town? One of the selling points of this is that is saves energy on transport.

Vegetables for five thousand people; in theory, with biodynamics, this would require 45 acres of cropland. Do you suppose there are 45 acres of wasted lawn space in Linköping, Sweden? It sure looks like it. In fact, google maps seem to show a small, not very dense city. Do you suppose there are 45 wasted acres of rooftop in Linköping? But nobody could get millions to transform lawns and roofs. Let's say that due to low light levels in Linköping, it would actually take 200 acres. I think the point still holds.

Can anyone say subsidy dumpster?
 
Chris Kott
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Gilbert, what's the hardiness zone of Linköping, Sweden? Can they grow year-round outside? Can they supplement their light levels at that time in the year when the sun is insufficient? Does their cropland have any protection against early or late frosts?

I think one of the things driving people from places like Linköping, Sweden to think this way is a subtle climactic shift. It is mentioned here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Link%C3%B6ping

Apparently, their historically humid continental climate has more closely resembled a cold oceanic climate since the 90s, so that might explain it. If tomatoes stopped being a viable crop, and everyone's zone 7a/8 fruit trees all died in the span of a decade, I think it might spur some innovative thought in those areas.

As to the amount of land, between 45 to 200 acres, how many mixed use permacultural skyscrapers could you fit on that land, even designing the landscape around them to be a mix of wilderness, parkland, and seasonally productive intensive gardens? How much of the energy required, I wonder, would be produced almost exclusively by offshore wind power farms? If they were designed by avid, rabid, enthusiastic permaculturalists, how many passive carbon-sequestration and air and water cleaning measures could be fit into these structures to leave the environment better than before their interaction?

I am not saying we shouldn't bother transforming lawn and roof spaces. That should be done, and because that is appropriate for individual-scale action, it can be done as soon as whoever is responsible for the lawn or roof in question decides to do so. That doesn't obviate the need for other options.

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Apparently, their historically humid continental climate has more closely resembled a cold oceanic climate since the 90s, so that might explain it. If tomatoes stopped being a viable crop, and everyone's zone 7a/8 fruit trees all died in the span of a decade, I think it might spur some innovative thought in those areas.



Sure, season extension would help a lot. Simple plastic covered structures can move the covered area several climate zones over. Plastic covered passive solar greenhouses are currently growing Bananas in the mountains of Colorado in a very cold climate, using no more energy then a large refrigerator.

I bet that tower will grow a lot of salad. Salads ought to thrive in that climate, and with simple structures could be grown all year around. Will they really grow tomatoes? Tomatoes are much less space efficient in artificial light due to their height, and then need more of the spectrum then salads.

They do have a short day in the winter, but it is counterbalanced by a very long day in the summer; many vegetable crops do very well at high latitudes for this reason. And I'm certain they won't be growing trees in there.

The biggest advantage of smaller structures is that mistakes can be easily ironed out.

As to the amount of land, between 45 to 200 acres, how many mixed use permacultural skyscrapers could you fit on that land, even designing the landscape around them to be a mix of wilderness, parkland, and seasonally productive intensive gardens? How much of the energy required, I wonder, would be produced almost exclusively by offshore wind power farms? If they were designed by avid, rabid, enthusiastic permaculturalists, how many passive carbon-sequestration and air and water cleaning measures could be fit into these structures to leave the environment better than before their interaction?



Will the steel and rare earth mines be better off afterwards? And I'm sure that lower tech farming can also leave the area better off, without any mines out of sight, off site, and therefore and out of mind.

I am not saying we shouldn't bother transforming lawn and roof spaces. That should be done, and because that is appropriate for individual-scale action, it can be done as soon as whoever is responsible for the lawn or roof in question decides to do so. That doesn't obviate the need for other options.



This is my main sticking point; I still can't understand this. If there are more then enough rooftops and lawns, why would we need these more complicated options? These towers will never produce grains or other staples. Vegetables currently are grown on 4 percent of American cropland, that means about twenty million acres. There are forty million acres of lawn in the USA. Add in the rooftops, and we could easily produce all the vegetables our country eats on former lawns and on rooftops, not to mention the fact that intensive gardens produce more vegetables then extensive farmland. Use simple greenhouses, and we're set.

Now, I realize you don't find this convincing. Why not?
 
Chris Kott
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Because it's been an obvious option since the energy crisis of the 70s, and you still see people with giant lawns. Because that's what Paul was saying well over a decade ago, and while I see a lot more natural or climate-appropriate gardens, they're not growing food. Because of the nature of people to enjoy what they enjoy. Apparently, the overwhelming majority of people feel the need to mimic an old garden technique of the French because they appreciate the aesthetic, and that's worth more to them than home-grown veggies.

Maybe we need large urban permacultural examples to encourage the infill of these unused spaces with food production.

And what's wrong with a more complex option that offers different advantages? If people want to take another path, what makes that insufficient? Why is it necessary for some group or other to constantly be throwing their wooden shoes into the machinery?

I am presupposing that projects like this will be carried out using as many principles of permaculture as can apply to a large urban structure, because I don't really have any interest in discussing moneygrabs designed to fail, or ones that ignore basic principle. Those are out of the scope of this conversation, as they are anathema to the idea of a permaculturally-sound skyscraper.

So this is my main sticking point. Is it your contention that if we can't reproduce, say, tools, independantly, then they aren't to be used? Do you think it better not to do R and D, and rather do things "...as it was in the days of my grandfather..." because the methods were proven, even though there were problems there, too, such as insufficient nutrition and starvation? With that mentality, we never would have developed agriculture and animal husbandry or, you know, fire.

Humans build, invent, create. Humans squabble, fight, destroy. But we don't limit ourselves. If we do, those institutions that are put up to keep us in check are overthrown over time as public opinions shift and people learn more. The move to reject progress and development is unnatural. If you jump out of the car, you definitely won't be able to influence its direction, even to slow it down.

I'm not saying to not convert lawns and rooftops into intensive garden spaces; that would be illogical. I am saying that these mixed-use structures will be built. Would you rather there not be anyone advocating for a human-centric food system in these towers as opposed to a robotised one? That's what I don't get. Why must it be one or the other? If you don't want them, don't buy into one. You needn't include one in any plan you devise. Why should they not be available for those who consider it a good idea?

-CK
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Chris,

Thanks for the clarification.

So do you mean to say that the high rise farms are not "necessary" to solve the food crisis, or energy crisis, or whatever, but that they simply will happen, and therefore we might as well participate and make them better? And that they reason they will happen is that we as a whole are too settled in our ways, and will never opt to dig up half the lawn space in the USA?

I agree that anyone can do whatever they want, so long as it is legal and they have the money for it; that's not under discussion. People do many things.

I see that I should clarify my point about reproducibility. I see nothing wrong with technological innovation, or with cooperation. However, I do think that local communities should be able to produce the basics of life for themselves if necessary. In other words, a community (say a small city of 10,000 people) should have the ability to grow its own food, purify its water, repair or replace all basic tools and equipment, produce clothing, and build houses; they should also be able to educate their people, produce cultural items, take care of basic health care, etc.

The community will, of course, produce some specialty for export. They will also import many things; bananas, for instance, or Swiss watches, or flat screen TVs, or computers. They will travel for specialist education or surgery. They may even import basics (lumber or grain, say) to supplement their supply, so that they could focus on other things; but they would retain the ability to quickly resume full production of these items.

Such a self-sufficienty community can be truly free. A community dependent on critical imports and exports can be controlled; they can be destroyed. For examples, look no further then the contrast between most small American towns and Amish communities (I'm not suggesting living like the Amish, by the way.) The Amish have more farmers and more communities they they did 50 years ago. Other small towns have collapsed; the businesses, schools, churches, post offices, repair shops are gone, houses and fences and barns slowly rotting amid fields that are reverting to forest. They depended on imports and exports and they were destroyed. Now, some think their destruction is a good thing; but the same could happen to a high tech city or any other kind of community, if they can not support themselves in a pinch.

Some technologies can be reproduced by a local community. Some can not. Which they are will vary by place, of course.

If we do get micro-nuclear plants, that would be OK with me, so long as they were safe, and replicable by local people.

My other point is that technology is a way of replacing people. Eventually, the strategy has diminishing returns. So long as work is human, I think it would be better to have people do meaningful work instead of replacing them with robots or other high technology devices.

 
Chris Kott
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But what of high-technology tools that allow individuals to do more, or do things more efficiently?

I am in complete agreement with you in terms of resilience. It would be best if there was a strong push for individual communities to be self-sustaining in critical and day-to-day matters as much as possible. But trade is based on the idea that people can do what it is most efficient to do and produce the things that get produced most efficiently where they are, with what they have, and then trade with others, whose most efficiently produced goods are different from theirs. Bananas from the tropics for maple syrup from the north. That kind of thing. It does extend to commodity crops.

My point here is, in many situations, to have a civilisation at our level, focusing on self-sustaining communities to the exclusion of all else isn't efficient, which is how we got in this whole mess in the first place. Cheap fossil energy increased the range and type of goods that could be shipped, to the point where we had company towns with one economic driver, as in the mine, or the mill, or the fishery. It collapses, and so does the town. I think we need to walk it back, so that we're doing what you're describing. There's much the Amish might teach us, but we don't need to become Amish to benefit.

-CK
 
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I think we should pay attention to developments in East Asia, where megacities are already a real thing. I saw (and used) rechargeable bus/subway fare cards in Singapore a full decade before I ever saw one in the United States. Singapore at that time was already using the concept of clustered high rise neighborhoods, and there were already books out about gardening in those high rises. I expect Singapore to lead the way in urban management for one quite simple reason: it is an island city-state, with no room for sprawl; across the Johor Strait is another country, Malaysia, so Singapore cannot expand in that direction, and on the other three sides is saltwater.
 
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I think 'permaculture citiy' is an oxymoron. Cities are inherently unsustainable and 'anti-community'. I don't see any problem with skyscrapers, but they are inefficient in many situations. There are all sorts of things you can do with tall buildings other than packing them full of humans.
 
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While not directly addressing skyscrapers I thought I would add a reference to the work of Pauol sSleri and hiss creation of the Arcosanti center in the Arizona desert Soleri's work did try to integrate sustainable principles with a focus on multi leveled buildings



https://arcosanti.org/project/paolo-soleri/
 
Chris Kott
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I think the idea that a permacultural city is oxymoronic is relying on a phenomenon that I am only now getting my mind around: permacultural dogma.

It isn't a part of permaculture to dogmaticise it, in my opinion. There isn't one sacred way to build soil, or to solve a problem, or to live a life. Permaculture isn't a religion to which one converts. It's a philosophy to which one applies onesself.

I think that any limits to the application of permaculture to any aspect of life exist solely within the mind of the person speculating upon it. Permaculture is a design science, and very complete.

The specific way that problems caused by urbanisation are handled need to be overhauled from a permaculturally-aligned perspective, but it's not even hard. It's just necessary to sketch out the socio-environmental necessity, and the correlating economic necessity. It only exists in this form because the closed-loop nature of the earth wasn't entirely comprehended back when cities were being figured out. They literally thought that if you piped your shit down stream from you, you never needed to worry about it again.

This is evident when you look at cultures new to the idea of non-biodegradable packaging. Before, in cultures in India, for instance, where wrappers for food grew on the food, throwing them on the ground or in the river would result in soil somewhere, eventually. With plastic wrappers, the result is much worse, but the behaviour hasn't changed.

Cities are necessary for specialisation, which is important if you don't want your GP trying to do heart or brain surgery, or if you want a dentist, as opposed to a handy barber. This thread talks a little about urbanisation.

-CK
 
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The city under a dome was Buckminster Fuller's vision.

The idea of renovating skyscrapers is interesting... especially if it addressed the ebb and flow of workers from empty/full/apartments/offices.

What if the offices and apartments were in the same buildings, on alternate floors? Apartments would be separated from up/downstairs "neighbors" by offices that would be empty at night and on weekends (an improvement over current apartment living).
If you were employed in the same building, you could go home for lunch, though you might crave a change of scenery? You might not own a car? or could rent out your stall to a commuter? You might need good work/home life balance skills, or get extra pay to "be on call"?

 
Matt Grantham
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Hi Chris I assume in some way your response is aimed at my post in regard to Arcosanti and the ideas behind it I would not call Arcosanti a city, though I will admit I am not completely clear on the appropriate terminology for this conversation Perhaps it is simplistic to refer to vertical buildings versus horizontal or one story buildings, but something like that might be a nice starting point for some aspects of this conversation.
 
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